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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: November 2017


from Asia



A watershed in history for transgender persons in Singapore was quietly marked with the publication of a short newspaper article in the 31 July 1971 issue of The Straits Times, the leading English-language newspaper in Singapore. Buried on page 17, and sandwiched between a report about a drop in water usage in water- scarce Singapore and another about the Singapore Youth Orchestra, it recorded that ‘Singapore's first sex change operation was successfully carried out on a 24-year-old man’ on 29 July 1971. The surgery took place at the main obstetrics and gynaecology hospital in Singapore in a three-hour operation carried out by three surgeons from the University of Singapore. Although surgical procedures had previously been carried out on patients affected by an intersex condition, this appears to be the first ‘complete’ gender confirmation surgery procedure to be carried out specifically for the treatment of gender dysphoria in Singapore. The lead surgeon of the team carrying out the surgery later described the operation as the ‘first sex change ever done in Singapore, and for that matter in the region’.

The operation went well. Within a month, the newspapers followed up with a report that the patient was on the verge of being discharged from hospital – and had ‘marriage plans’. The second gender confirmation surgery was carried out a few months later in November of the same year, also involving a male-to-female (MtF) transgender individual. The patient in this second case appears to have been operated upon just two weeks after being referred to the hospital. She had come to the decision about submitting to gender confirmation surgery after reading the newspaper reports about the first operation. About three years later, the first surgical intervention was performed upon a female-to-male (FtM) transgender individual. It, too, was successful, although the individual had to endure a series of operations as part of the considerably more complex FtM transition process (in contrast to the single-stage procedure carried out for MtF transgender persons) which required among other things the construction of a neophallus through a phalloplasty procedure. It was not until early 1977, some three years after the first surgical procedure, that this individual completed his medical transition.